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  • Tammy L Wells

Friend, father, mentor: longtime Biddeford, Sanford Fire Chief Ray Parent remembered

In June 2002 there was a structure fire on Drake’s Island in Wells, in a spot where older summer cottages are pressed close together on tiny streets and lanes.

Standing on the sidelines, watching the scene as Wells firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze, was Sanford Fire Chief Raymond “Ray” Parent.

“This is my classroom,” he said.

At that time, Parent had been a firefighter for 38 years, but he knew there was more to learn, always.

“The more I see, the better I can perform,” he said that day. “I’m watching serious conditions as they occur.”

Parent, 80, who had retired from the fire service in early 2011, died at home April 10.

He has been described by those who knew him as a family man, as a mentor to both new and seasoned firefighters; possessed of a keen knowledge of human behavior, a sense of humor – a man with integrity, and with a no-nonsense manner when that was what was needed.

Parent served as fire chief in York County’s two largest communities. He began his career in Biddeford, where he rose through the ranks to serve as deputy chief for eight years and chief for 13, retiring in 1994 after 30 years with the department. He sold fire trucks for a couple of years and then became fire chief in Sanford in 1996, retiring in early 2011.

Along the way he served a stint as interim Town Manager in Sanford and as director of Sanford Regional Communications for a time. He later served as interim fire and rescue chief in Lebanon.

A U.S. Navy veteran, Parent was a driving force behind the years-long effort to see Southern Maine Veterans Cemetery, located in Springvale, come to fruition. The cemetery was officially dedicated on Aug. 24, 2010.

He had been president of the Maine Fire Chief’s Association and was long involved with the York County Chief’s Association and had served as its president.

It was during his tenure as fire chief in Biddeford in 1989 when the city broke ground on a new, sorely needed fire station that had been discussed for a decade before coming to fruition.

He was named Maine Fire Chief of the Year in 2005. “What I like about Ray is that he’s a straight shooter and a hard worker,” said Mark Green, Sanford’s Town Manager, at the announcement that year.

Parent got started in the fire service at the urging of his mother, Arline. He was 21 years old and had completed a four-year stint in the U.S. Navy, stationed in Key West, Florida. He said part of his job as a radio operator was relaying lengthy speeches by Fidel Castro to officials in the US government by teletype during the Cuban missile crisis.

Parent came home to Biddeford and was driving a cement truck when his mother convinced him to apply for a job as a firefighter in his hometown.

He had an interview, but the telephone did not ring – until one morning when an irate Biddeford fire commissioner called and asked why Parent hadn’t shown up for work the previous day.

The fire commissioner told him, “You’d better be there today,” he recalled in a 2003 interview.

He made sure he went to work.

Parent also made sure he came home to the love of his life, wife Priscille, and their children.

In a conversation some time ago, Parent spoke of Priscille – they met when she was 15 and he was 16 – and their first dance together in the ballroom on the Old Orchard Beach Pier, where the big bands were playing. It was love, a long-lasting love.

Daughter Noreen and son Eric recall their parents telling them that when they were courting, Ray didn’t have a car, and so he would run to Old Orchard Beach, where Priscille lived, to spend time with her.

His counsel was valuable to other firefighters.

“Ray was not only a friend, but a mentor,” said Waterboro Fire Chief Matt Bors, who was new to the position when he met Parent.

He said Parent convinced him to become involved in the Maine Fire Chief’s Association and later, the New England Chief’s Association.

“These were all great opportunities for me in my new role,” said Bors. “Our conversations were broad, but I realized quickly that I should listen and learn. Chief Parent was honest, fair, and maintained a high level of integrity.”

Peter Cutrer, hired by Parent as the Sanford department’s fire marshal in the mid-2000s, concurs.

“He was a mentor to me and so many others,” said Cutrer, now a fire instructor. “My favorite teaching point from him was ‘honesty and integrity equals credibility. If you lose one of the first two, you lose the most important one, number three.’”

“Ray was quite a person, he had his opinions and people had opposing opinions and often Ray was more correct in the long run,” said Jeff Rowe, who served as Parent’s assistant chief in Sanford and became chief there when Parent retired. Rowe retired a couple of years ago from his job as Kennebunk’s fire chief. “He impacted a lot of young people and older people in the fire service. He provided a lot of people with a lot of opportunity, and I am certainly one of them.”

Retired Biddeford Fire Chief Raymond Gagne recalled that he and Parent were hired at the same time, and later, Gagne served as Parent’s deputy chief, taking on the role of chief when Parent retired.

“He loved the job,” said Gagne. He recalled that during the oil crunch in the 1970s, when people turned to woodstoves to heat their homes, Parent educated himself on the proper way to install and maintain them and then set about to educate others in Maine and beyond.

Gagne said he and Parent had a telephone conversation a few weeks ago.

They talked about old times – like when the Biddeford Fire Department organized a drum and bugle corps that took part in several parades – and he taught Parent how to play the drums.

And they talked about fires. “We had bad times and good times, we saw a lot,” Gagne said.

“Chief Parent was a pioneer in the fire service in Maine and a true legend in his own right,” said York County Fire Administrator Roger Hooper.

Parent was predeceased by his beloved Priscille in 2019, by his parents Albert and Arline Parent, an infant son Rodney and sisters Yvette Sylvester and Nancy Neault, according to his obituary.

He is survived by his treasured children and their families, his siblings and others: daughter, Noreen Parent, of Sanford; son, Eric Parent, and his wife, Marie, of Hollis; grandchildren, John-Paul Parent of Utah, and Zhanae Parent of Limerick; great-grandchildren Boston Parent and Rylee Parent; his sister Claire Ouellette of Florida, sister Elaine Corbeil and her husband Roland, of Florida, nieces, nephews, and cousins.

Eric remembers Red Sox games and Bruins games and in later years, the family bringing their motorcycles and camper to Louden, New Hampshire at race time and touring the countryside together. Retired after 30 years in the military, Eric moved back to Maine a decade ago and father and son drew closer.

Growing up, he recalled his father working two jobs. “He was dedicated to what he was doing and to his family,” he said.

“My Dad was a humble man,” said his daughter Noreen, “Everything was family.”

She and Eric noted her family also had an “open door” policy and those needing an ear would often come and talk with Parent, and there were times those conversations stretched into hours.

“He never turned anyone away,” she said.



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